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UN launches emergency operation to help more than a quarter million Palestinians

UN launches emergency operation to help more than a quarter million Palestinians

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today launched an emergency operation to help 270,000 Palestinians no longer able to meet their food needs because of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Over the next six months, WFP will spend about $11.5 million to provide 26,000 metric tonnes of food aid to the poorest and most needy Palestinians, in particular day labourers who have lost their jobs as a direct consequence of Israeli security restrictions. The new programme would be nearly triple the current $4 million assistance operation, launched in December 2000 to provide food aid to the most vulnerable 250,000 Palestinians.

"The Israeli blockade has had a serious impact on many poor Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank whose only source of income was casual labour inside Israel," said Mushtaq Qureshi, WFP Representative in the Palestinian Territories.

Tight border controls between Israel and both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been in force since civil unrest spread across the occupied Palestinian Territories last October. The Israeli security restrictions, which include internal closures within the Palestinian areas, have severely hampered the movement of workers and goods, slowing down all economic activities. Thousands of Palestinians no longer have any job opportunities.

According to UN estimates, unemployment rates soared from about 11 per cent in mid-2000 to nearly 50 per cent in May while income from wages earned by Palestinian workers in Israel plummeted 75 per cent. The total loss is estimated at over $2.2 billion to date, equivalent to 40 per cent of the projected gross domestic product (GDP) of the Palestinian Territories for the current fiscal year.

"Poor families have to make extremely difficult decisions," warned Mr. Qureshi. "The more fortunate among them are still relying on their savings, while others have already started to reduce spending and sell assets. These families are likely to change food consumption patterns in a way that affects their nutritional health, particularly of women and children."

Other UN agencies, with the help of the donor community, have been implementing small employment schemes by targeting a few thousand unemployed workers to relieve the mounting pressure on the Palestinian poor. But all these schemes have had a limited impact, as the majority of workers' families remain dependent on relief assistance, WFP said.